Al-Qaeda as Social Workers I wrote this for a Social Work class I took last semester and thought some might be interested. We all know that the situation in Syria is changing constantly. This article was written right before the major offensive against ISIS by the FSA/SRF/IF/JaN.
Recently, we have heard a lot of discussion in regards to soft power. Players on the world stage now know how important to be liked by the average person aka “joe sixpack”. Nations are often judged by foreign policy, culture, values, treatment of minorities, wealth, access to resources etc. It seems as if even the most violent and globally disposed groups have realized this. During the recent conflict in Syria, we have seen Al-Qaeda attempt to win favor among the local population by providing basic social services and governance. But did it work? The answer is sort of but it was always doomed to fail. Social Work is often looked at as an idealistic and moralistic field, but many larger organizations, governments and insurgencies long ago realized that social services can be used as a psychological weapon of sorts.
Al-Qaeda entered the Syrian conflict in mass around 2011. During that time, the “moderate” opposition aligned into a group called the Free Syrian Army. The FSA had resorted to looting in many “free” areas, were stalemated at the front and had begun to price fix on basic necessities. Groups such as Jabhat al Nusra (JaN) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) came into these areas and provided starving citizens with food and water and provided basic governance via Sharia based courts. Essentially, they were meeting the needs of an extremely desperate population. To help this cause, ISIS and JaN were extremely effective and had started to make gains in areas where the moderate Syrian resistance didn’t.
At first, all the negatives were overlooked. Why? Because the people were starving and being victimized. As time went on, the Al-Qaeda based groups began to become the victimizers and started to terrorize the local population. Now that the people were no longer starving and had established a basic order they began to protest against groups like ISIS. Eventually, ISIS opened fire on a peaceful protest (which is the same thing that Bashar al Assad committed, starting the whole conflict). This caused the FSA and the “moderate Islamists” called the Islamic Front to unite and fight against ISIS.
Essentially, people in desperate straights will take help from wherever they can get. This is evidenced by the initial acceptance of Al-Qaeda by some of the Syrian people. After they have their needs met they can begin to focus on who exactly is giving them services and why they are. The United Nations has now begun to provide services for people inside Syria, however, it may be too late to fully rid Syria of Al-Qaeda. Jabhat Al Nusra is considered “dependable” by many Syrians.
Syria has completely broken down into a sectarian struggle based on religion, and Syria’s future is extremely bleak. The prized and revered religious tolerance of the Syrian people is apparently gone for at least a generation. The failure of the rest of the world to respond to the needs of Syrian citizens provided a window for Al-Qaeda to move into Syria. The longterm effects of this is not known, however, they are likely to be disturbing. ISIS has become so violent and uncontrollable that the head of Al-Qaeda has disavowed allegiance and ordered its Syrian affiliate (JaN) to attack ISIS, making ISIS an extremely dangerous rogue Al-Qaeda faction.
Also, keep in mind this conflict has produced a massive number of refugees which has greatly strained the social welfare systems of many Middle Eastern countries. Some of these refugees might eventually find their way to the US. This could be a demographic to pay attention to.